I didn’t expect our new Ninth District Congressman, Morgan Griffith, to be on the side of clean air and water, but I was hoping for more thoughtfulness from Senator Jim Webb. In Sunday’s paper edition of the Roanoke Times, the article, Coal at the center of rules debate included the following reprint of Senate Bill 231 sponsored by John Rockefeller and co-sponsored by Senator Webb:
I agree with Senator Webb on many issues, and certainly, he is a superior alternative to George Allen, his once and probable opponent for the 2012 senate seat should he decide to run; however, loyal Democrats can disagree with our representatives and should voice concerns about their stands on issues when we disagree – and, I disagree with Webb’s stand on EPA regulations of the coal industry. On the other hand, I can see how he might think it is a good political move. If Webb takes the plunge for a second term, it appears that he will have set himself up as a protector of the coal industry, which candidates seem to think they must do to garner votes in far Southwest Virginia.
||A bill to suspend, until the end of the two-year period beginning on the date of enactment of the Act, any Environmental Protection Agency action under the Clean Air Act with respect to carbon dioxide or methane pursuant to certain proceedings, other than with respect to motor vehicle emissions, and for other purposes. |
Before entering the political arena in Virginia, Webb wrote movingly about how the coal industry had used those who dwelled in the mountains and hollows of the southwestern part of the state. (Hat Tip to Blue Virginia for the following passage from Webb’s book, Born Fighting.)
The ever hungry industrialists had discovered that West Virginia, eastern Kentucky and southwest Virginia sat atop one huge vein of coal. And so the rape began. The people from the outside showed up with complicated contracts that the small-scale cattle raisers and tobacco farmers could not fully understand, asking for "rights" to mineral deposits they could not see, and soon they were treated to a sundering of their own earth as the mining companies ripped apart their way of life, so that after a time the only option was to go down into the hole and bring the Man his coal, or starve. The Man got his coal, and the profits it brought when he shipped it out. They got their wages, black lung, and the desecration of their land.
Can it be that the coal industry has co-opted Senator Webb much as it did Representative Boucher who tried to save his job by weakening the cap and trade bill to benefit Big Coal? I live in Southwest Virginia, and although I have no connection to the coal industry, I understand the pressure many workers in this area feel to find and keep jobs. I also understand that dependence on coal as a source of electricity is not going to disappear soon. I fear, however, that the miners have been fed the big lie by coal company executives (who, by the way, make the big bucks) that the government is taking away their jobs by regulating the industry. What a load of garbage! Webb was right when he wrote in his book that Big Coal has come in and raped the land and poisoned the air and water while at the same time, automating the methods of strip mining and mountaintop removal so that few miners are needed, and those who run the large equipment many times are not even from the locality. What those who are out-of-work need are different jobs - ones not dependent merely on coal. President Obama is trying to get workers to focus on the future including jobs in clean energy instead of failing to protect of the people and the environment of the region by delaying the implementation of regulations like those in the Clean Water Act.
There are a couple of things that bother me about Webb’s following statement in his defense of his position on the EPA regulations:
"When Bush was president, I was very strong on this as far as a lot of the foreign policy initiatives he was taking on," Webb said. "I had the same set of concerns with this present administration, particularly as it goes to their climate area and environmental policies. ... Unfortunately there are people who simply want to do away with coal. Most of them don't live down here."
First, there may be some groups who want to do away with coal, but there’s no evidence that it’s a goal of the Obama administration as Webb intimated. By making that assertion in the same paragraph in which he mentions the present administration, Webb implies, whether intended or not, that this administration is enacting measures against the best interests of people who live in the southwestern part of the state.
Second, I’m not sure it is in Webb’s best interest to run so far away from Obama. If he is trying to earn points with Southwest Virginians, he should look at Rick Boucher’s unsuccessful campaign. He cannot out Republican Allen or whoever runs against him. The coal miners voted Republican in the 2010 Congressional election, and it’s probable that they will do the same in 2012 because the Republican will come out strongly against the EPA and any controls the Obama administration tries to implement even if they are designed to protect the health and well-being of the people who live in the region. In other sections of the state, running an environmentally dirty campaign may not be advantageous. In addition, Webb appears to be setting up a false equivalence by comparing Bush’s Mideast policies in which there were no compromises even when the policies weren’t working, and even worse, they were established under false pretenses with Obama’s environmental policies in which he has compromised time and again, sometimes to the consternation of the more liberal Democrats. Also, comparing war mongering with trying to provide a better environment for citizens is not the same at all.
Regulation of the coal industry is a hard issue, but having politicians who are being disingenuous about it doesn’t solve problems and advance our well-being.